GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Eric Payne was sworn in as Grand Rapids’ police chief last July, he asked a man with whom he’d spent many hours patrolling the streets of Grand Rapids to deliver the invocation.
That man was Father Dennis Morrow.
“May he be a blessing to all of us… all of the brothers and sisters in this city who look to him for leadership,” Morrow said during the gathering in Grand Rapids City Commission chambers.
“Which was special for me,” Payne said. “Because I had known him for many a years. It was important to have him there.”
Father Morrow, the longtime Grand Rapids Police Department and Grand Rapids Fire Department chaplain, was known as a comforting soul to city firefighters and police officers.
It would be next to impossible to find anyone who wears a badge in Grand Rapids who wasn’t touched at one time or another by Father Morrow’s faith and guidance.
The stories are endless. One in particular is heroic.
When he wasn’t chasing police and fire calls on his bike or in his car, Father Morrow was often riding with officers.
And on New Year’s Eve 1997, the officer he’d partnered up with got a disturbance call at a business near Century Avenue, west of US-131. What sounded like a routine called suddenly turned violent.
“Father Morrow and the officer went there, and the person was able to disarm our officer,” Payne said.
With no regard for his own safety, Father Morrow jumped in.
“(The male suspect) fired several shots, hitting our officer. Father Morrow stepped right in and was able to help disarm him and hold the person until other officers could get there to subdue him,” Payne said.
The suspect was arrested, and the officer survived her injuries.
“Yes. Definitely the spiritual side. But Father Morrow was always there to help us out,” Payne said.
At the Grand Rapids Fire Department, the LaGrave Street headquarters is draped in bunting in honor of the longtime fire and police chaplain.
And inside the firehouse are reminders of the longtime chaplain. Some of those reminders are displayed on the wall. Some recalled through memory.
“When there were promotions, or new babies, he married some of our members. But also, he was there for us in loss, too,” said GRFD Lt. Steve McBride.
For McBride, the loss was on Dec. 18, 2003.
McBride was among the responded to a fire on McDonald Street on the city’s northwest side. The blaze killed seven members of one family, all of whom were all parishioners at Saints Peter and Paul, led by Father Morrow.
“It was a tough time for him,” McBride said. “It was difficult for the family, obviously. And he wrapped his arms around all of us.”
From the fire and police departments to his parishioners at Saints Peter and Paul, Father Morrow touched countless lives.
In normal times, his funeral would be a large gathering with full police and fire department honors.
But these are not normal times.
“Not everybody will be able to gather and have a meal and be able to have those kinds of remembrances,” said GRFD Chief John Lehman. “At least right now, we’re not able to do that.”
All the rules under the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order will be followed. Capacity for the visitation at Saints Peter and Paul, set for Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., will be limited to just a few people at a time.
“People will be able to walk in one door and out another in order to pay their respects with proper distancing,” Lehman said.
Many honors, like a police department 21-gun salute, and the ringing of bells — the symbolic recognition of a firefighters end of duty — will take place outside.
A horse-drawn caisson will carry Father Morrow’s casket along the route he once walked in his pre-pastoral career as a postal carrier.
“Those are the kinds of things are things that are important that we maintain as we look to honor him,” Lehman said.
What will be missing are the handshakes, the hugs and the up-close recognitions of the bond those in both uniformed services share, and the role Father Dennis Morrow had in that sharing.
“We’ll get through it,” McBride said. “We’ve got a lot of memories to reminisce about Father Den and just keep that in mind. And be thankful that he’s in heaven.”